Self-Care and the Loneliness Epidemic

Self-Care and the Loneliness Epidemic

Does anyone else feel like friendships are hard to maintain in adulthood? Or is it just me?

There are so many things clamoring for our time and energy. Maybe you have three young kids, and you manage a small business from home. Maybe you work full-time out of the home. Maybe you're a stay-at-home mom, but your husband works long hours to make ends meet. Maybe you're in a season of motherhood, but you're pursuing a degree online. Maybe you're a home educator trying to coordinate the right curriculum and enrichment activities. The various combinations of circumstances are endless. No matter what it is though, we all have basic needs that require time and energy. The bills need to be paid; food needs to be purchased and meals prepared; laundry needs to be washed, dried, folded, and put away! And here's the thing: there really is no defined end on this side of eternity because these are basic needs of our unredeemed flesh.

It's no wonder the self-care gospel has spread like wildfire! Moms across the world are exhausted! The only thing our culture can offer is a cheap tip called "self-care." It is a cheap tip because it throws the ball back into exhausted hands–you need to get a pedicure or a massage; you need to go on a walk; you should take a bath with Epsom salt; you should hire a babysitter and enjoy retail therapy in silence. There really isn't much cost to the giver of said advice. Instead, the gospel of Jesus Christ offers grace freely at a tremendous cost to the Giver. It is this gospel that compels us to love others as an expression of our love for God. It is an 'others-care' gospel. This gospel directs weary souls to true rest because it is rooted in Christ. This gospel is characterized by Christ's love that is active; it moves toward the broken and weary. It says, "Give me your kids so I can love on them for a bit." Or it invites tired eyes out for coffee and intentional conversation. Or maybe it is a forced invitation to a home-cooked meal for the whole family on a weeknight, no strings attached–just eat and go.

It is easy to see how the self-care gospel is not really the gospel. But there's a deeper issue nurtured by the self-care gospel of our culture that beckons immediate attention–a loneliness epidemic. Akos Balough calls this the "silent epidemic sweeping across western societies." In his article, he identifies some driving factors, but two stick out: busy schedules and individualism. When western cultures glorify busyness, the only logical result is an exhausted population. When these cultures promote individualism for success and rest (self-care) and everything in between, the only logical result is an exhausted and lonely population.

What's the solution? The answer is the gospel and the local church. In God's good design, our union with Christ includes connection to fellow believers that are also united to Christ. A frequent metaphor seen in the New Testament for the church is a body:

Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another.

Romans 12:4-5

This is also seen in 1 Corinthians 10:17, 12:12, 12:27 and Ephesians 4:12, 5:23, 5:30. The church mirrors the body in that there is a unity within its diverse parts. Both unity and diversity should be celebrated because it is vital to the health of the whole! This combats both individualism and busyness. It is easy to see how it goes against individualism–believers have "different ministries but the same Lord," and it is all for the "common good" (1 Corinthians 12:5-7). You have a calling and specific gifts to fulfill that calling to the glory of God and the good of others; I have a calling with its necessary gifts from the Holy Spirit. We need each other; we only function as we were designed to function when we are together. But how does this relate to busyness?

In the previously linked article, Akos Balough shares a quote from Pete Shmigel, the Chief Executive of Lifeline:

Relationships, frankly, are inconvenient ... Society values convenience so much that we actually seek to make things so convenient that they actively seek to avoid human relationships. We need to have the stickiness, the gooeyness, the conflict that comes with engaging in actual human relationships.

Our busyness feeds into individualism in the name of convenience and efficiency. This is why our busyness adds to the loneliness epidemic. And this is why believers are not immune to loneliness. It is easier to see that self-care isn't the answer, but believers are prone to busyness like anyone else. Personally, I think people in full-time vocational ministry are some of the busiest people! We have to honest with ourselves: believers are prone to the temptation to choose convenience and efficiency over connection and messy conversations like everyone else. It is a very real temptation for me in the midst of my work of creating material that is rooted in Scripture! It is a daily battle against the flesh (Galatians 5:17).

This is how all of this connects to my initial question of friendship in adulthood. It is timely that I am wrestling with this particular topic not long after I wrote about how I've developed a better home management system since life got busier (you can read that entry here). It is timely because here's the truth: no one can do everything. And the beauty is, it is God's good design that we are limited by nature. And in recognizing this truth, we need His wisdom in knowing where to invest our limited time and energy. And though I may be tempted to fight against these God-ordained limits, I believe they are for His glory and my good.

But I still fail. Recently, I wrestled with loneliness. But by His grace, as soon as feelings of loneliness crept into my heart, I knew that I was working outside of God's good design. Now, feelings are not always trustworthy (Jeremiah 17:9), but they can be helpful when they are examined under the Word of God. In taking my feelings captive and analyzing them in light of the gospel, I realized that I actually needed to repent. I was blaming my loneliness on my friends–they were not understanding of my work schedule and busy season of raising little ones; they were leaving me out; they didn't care about me anymore. But the truth was, it was me. I was choosing busyness, convenience, and efficiency over connection and face-to-face conversations. I was expecting deep connections to remain without the investment of my own time and heart. I was choosing to nurse feelings and thoughts that were untrue in order to validate my own sin patterns.

Don't get me wrong–I do believe friendships in adulthood are difficult. Adulthood is demanding–basic needs are real and unending, and they are also in the company of extracurricular activities, date nights, extended family, and more. However, all of our responsibilities and needs are intimately known by our Father in Heaven. And we have to remember that He called work good–it existed before the Fall when God instructed Adam to cultivate the land (Genesis 2:15). He wants us to work heartily in whatever we do (Colossians 3:23). However, it was His good design to make us limited by nature. It was His good design to make His bride dependent on Him and one another. And He will never call me to do something that is outside of His good design for me (and us, corporately). He will never call me to isolate myself from the fellowship of other believers for ministry (Hebrews 10:25).

So yes, friendships are harder when you are in the throes of adulthood. However, they are necessary and worth it, especially with believers within your local church. And it shouldn't stop there–our love should radiate out into the community. So the next time you are feeling weary, disconnected, and lonely, remind yourself of God's good design, and see if you are living in line with His Word. Refrain from settling on a bath to recharge you–instead, ask a friend out for coffee, and dig deep. Sure, it may take extra time and effort, but the "stickiness" and "gooeyness" that comes with face-to-face will be life-giving because it is in line with His design. And, as always, preaching this to my own heart.

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